Have you ever kept a deep, dark secret that you were dying to share but would never dare?
For most of his childhood, Kevin Allison lived with such a devastating secret. He was gay. Today, that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but at the time, the thought terrified the Midwesterner. Allison eventually came out of the closet, but the experience taught him the value of letting go of these secrets and sharing them.
Ten years ago, after a particularly challenging period in his career following early success as the member of sketch comedy group The State and an MTV show, Allison founded the Risk! podcast and monthly live shows in New York, Los Angeles and cities across the country. The premise was simple: real people would be empowered to share their own secrets.
Over the years, Risk! Has attracted celebrities such as Janeane Garofalo, Lisa Lampanelli, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Lili Taylor, Rachel Dratch and Andy Borowitz, but Allison also enjoys the stories of everyday people.
“Each live show is an emotional roller coaster,” he said. “We have a couple outrageously funny stories, a couple emotional, traumatic, tear-jerking stories, and a couple that are just WTF.”
This Thursday, May 16, Allison brings his Risk! Live show to the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, sponsored by SunServe and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. And, in keeping with tradition, most of the storytellers will be local residents. More than 20 people “auditioned” for the opportunity to take the stage.
Over the years, guests have shared eyebrow-raising stories about sexual encounters, drug and alcohol addiction, criminal acts and more.
“It’s tricky, because what we’re looking for is (whether) this moment from this person’s life really meant something to them,” Allison explained. “They are being much more uncensored than they would be on mainstream broadcast, like ‘This American Life’. Because people are being so real on this show, it creates a super supportive audience. Our audiences are just the greatest, they hang on the storyteller’s every word.”
When the crew hits the road, they also discover regional differences in the themes of the stories. Allison noted that storytellers in San Francisco and Portland are “kinkier,” while Midwesterners seem to have all sorts of family secrets to share. Surprisingly, New Yorkers and Angelenos are relatively subdued, perhaps because they are more concerned about how the revelations might affect their public personas.
“For me, it feels like an honor that someone is coming to me to share their stories,” Allison said, “and I can’t help but learn about life in the process.”
SunServe executive director Mark Ketcham weighed in, also: “We wanted to do something ‘out-of-the-box to raise awareness for the work we do in this community and what's more out-of-the-box than hosting a live storytelling podcast called ‘Risk!’? It's a perfect fit for our community—and we know a thing or two about risky behavior—and how to avoid it, too!”
SunServe and AIDS Healthcare Foundation host Risk! Live on Thursday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sunshine Cathedral, 1480 S.W. 9thAve. in Fort Lauderdale. The performance is free and donations will be accepted. For more information, go to SunServe.org/Risk.